The City of Oakland’s Department of Race and Equity is launching this month under the watchful eyes of many Oakland residents who came out to meeting after meeting last year to demand the creation of the new department and who are now looking forward to see it tackle the institutionalized bias in hiring, contracting and the distribution of city services.
Approved by the Oakland City Council on June 30, the department is charged with integrating the principal of “fair and just” in the delivery of city services. The department will be staffed with two positions including the director and a program analyst.
To get the department up and running, Oakland has arranged to temporarily loan of the City of Portland, Oregon’s executive director of the Office of Equity and Human Rights, Dante J. James, who has led the Portland office since it began in 2012.
“Oakland has a long, proud history of being a diverse and inclusive community,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “Bringing expert support to Oakland as we build a Department of Race and Equity will help ensure that Oakland continues to grow as a thriving, equitable city.”
James has more than 25 years of experience in national, state, and local government, performing work in the areas of social justice and civil rights.
He has a law degree from the University of Denver, College of Law, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Central Arkansas. He has been an attorney in private practice, a public defender, and an administrative hearing officer, as well as an executive director of two non-profit organizations focused on social justice. Mr. James has extensive experience as a trainer, facilitator and teacher.
In Portland, he oversaw the development of training curricula, provided technical assistance and developed ways to examine issues of equity in budgeting, program and policy implementation. He also oversaw the implementation of the National League of Cities’ Black Male Achievement Initiative.
In a letter to a newspaper one year after he began his job in Portland, James described his efforts to end institutionalized racism in the city.
“Communities of color have historically and systematically been left out of decision-making in Oregon,” James said. “While I have built some bridges and opened some doors in my first year in Portland, clearly there is much more to do.
“Relationships between the city government and underrepresented communities have been broken for decades, even centuries,” he continued. “It may take five years to repair the most egregious damage – and it will take longer unless we in the communities of color stay focused on the vision for the Office of Equity and Human Rights that many community leaders helped craft.”
The City of Oakland has hired The Hawkins Company to complete the executive recruitment for a permanent director of the Department of Race and Equity.